How to Score (On and Off the Pitch)

By Andrew Playle All Rights Reserved ©

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Chapter 54

Celebrations for winning the Premier League were kept to a minimum when the team met for training on the Monday morning. The players had to listen to a speech from the Chairman of the board saying how proud they were to have achieved what that had, but the job wasn’t finished and the board expected them to win the Champions League to complete a unique feat. The players looked on mildly amused by the speech and with their thoughts off somewhere other than the dressing rooms.

Boarding the club plane on the Tuesday afternoon found the players in a positive mood. They were determined to come back with a good result, even a 1-1 draw would be enough to make them favourites in the return leg. Bradley had picked up a slight injury in the game against Watford, but was confident enough to believe he could shake it off in time for the game. The physio was monitoring him carefully and it would only be light training for him before the game.

The city of Barcelona was nicer than Bradley could have imagined. He had heard stories of the place being the pickpocket capital of Europe and wondered if that reputation was deserved. He spoke to Jose and Alvarez about it and was pleased to hear that those stories were largely exaggerated and as long as you kept your wits about you, then you would be safe.

The streets were laid out in a grid system, rather like New York which made it easy to negotiate as the taxi carrying the three of them weaved through the evening traffic to an exclusive club on the beach where arrangements had been made for the team to enjoy an evening of team bonding (no alcohol) and relaxing to put them in the right frame of mind and to dispel any nerves that might have built up.

Silvio’s idea had been well received and none of the players stepped out of line, although they did stop out until 1am but as one of the team pointed out, that was only midnight back in London. The manager himself was there, not just to keep an eye on his team but also to relax a little and take in what they had achieved so far. He was in no doubt that this team could win anything they wanted, such was the team spirit and talent.

As the players all arrived back at the hotel just after one, Silvio wished them all a good and restful night and to make sure they were all in reception by 9am the following morning. It was good to see them all in such a positive mood after enjoying their night out. Football shouldn’t just be about training, game, training, game and signing autographs. They were human beings too and deserved to enjoy their job, no matter how lucky they were to have such talent in abundance which enabled them to earn money beyond their wildest dreams. Some of the players he managed with Brazil came from extremely poor backgrounds and they had difficulty in coming to terms with the fact that they earned in one week what it would take their families ten years to match. It played on their minds sometimes and they would have episodes of guilt and depression so Silvio had arranged for them to give something back to their communities in the way of setting up sports centres and hospitals in the favelas. It didn’t cost them much, but it was priceless to see their faces afterwards. It alleviated their guilty feelings and made them better players. That’s why he believed in letting his players have free rein when it came to away trips. Not many of them had come from extremely poor backgrounds like in Brazil, but they still felt guilty sometimes and needed to address the same issues. All part of Silvio’s man-management.

The atmosphere in the dressing room at Nou Camp was electric as kick off approached. Every player was pumped up and ready to give Barcelona something to think about. They were convinced that Arsenal was the best team in Europe and they were about to prove it.

Straight from the start, Arsenal attacked their defence with skill and precision and it was no surprise when Bradley weaved his way through the pack and planted a scorcher in the top corner of the net to go 1-0 up after only ten minutes. The home crowd were silenced and they secretly worried that this was going to be a rout if they carried on like this. By half time, it was 3-0 to Arsenal and the crowd were incensed, which only spurred Arsenal on to try harder.

After Bradley scored another two superb goals in the second half, the game was over and Barcelona were relieved to hear the final whistle, although they weren’t happy about the abuse they were getting from their supporters. Losing 5-0 at home in the semi-final with a return to the Emirates next week to look forward to was a total disaster and the following day their head coach Enrique was dismissed.

In the board room after the game the Chairman of Barcelona approached his counterpart at Arsenal and asked him to name his price for Bradley. He was told that Bradley wasn’t for sale at any price. He didn’t want to risk the wrath of the Arsenal supporters for selling the best player that had ever worn the red and white. That didn’t stop him from looking at it from a business point of view and secretly he was tempted to cash in on their greatest asset and make millions in the process. If he did sell Bradley, he would have to leave the club and never set foot in the Emirates again, such would be the backlash. He considered that it might just be worth doing that as he could pocket at least £10 million profit personally from the deal. It gave him something to think about on the flight home where all the players were excitedly looking forward to a Champions League final against either Bayern Munich or Juventus next month.

They had chosen to fly home straight after the match as they had to prepare for another Premier League game at the weekend which meant they didn’t land at London City airport until the small hours of the morning. They didn’t have to report for training until 10:30 instead of the usual 9am to make up for it. Training would only be fairly light anyway, no point in doing anything so strenuous that it would injure anyone.

Bradley got back to his apartment with Alvarez and Jose and went straight to bed. It was surreal that only a few hours ago he was playing in one of the great footballing arenas in the world, scoring a hat trick against one of the best teams in the world. He wasn’t aware of the Chairman’s thoughts about selling him but he did wonder what it would be like living and playing in Barcelona which he thought was a very nice city. Friendly people, passionate fans and a climate far better than anything London had to offer. But then London had one important thing that Barcelona didn’t: Jessie. He thought about her as he drifted off to sleep, hoping that he would be able to see her at the weekend.

Jessie and her dad had been watching the game on TV and couldn’t believe the final score. In all his years of watching football, he had never seen such a great side destroyed so easily, especially by his team. This was going to be a night he would remember for a lifetime. Strangely, it had occurred to him as well that Bradley might be the subject of a money no object bid from Barcelona. They had the cash to spare and even if they didn’t there were a couple of players who could be thrown into the equation that would tempt the Arsenal board. In a way, he would understand if they did take the money; he would be sorely tempted if he was in charge. The money they could make from such a deal would mean that the club could buy another two world class players and remain at the top even without Bradley. But then on a personal level, if Bradley was to move abroad then would his Jessie join him? They both loved Spain and stayed at their villa in Mijas as often as they could, so it could be tempting for her to leave as well.

He tried not to think too much about it, none of it was in his hands so he would just have to carry on as normal for now.

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